04/03/2017

Encounters At The End Of The World - Universal Obligation

Quick Thoughts: Encounters At The End Of The World (2007)

A look into the motivations and lives of the people that inhabit Antarctica.


Another Herzog documentary. Translation: an amazing film. Whilst this isn't Herzog's best film, it is certainly a highly immersive and intriguing look at eccentricity and isolation. The most iconic sequence of this movie has to be the 'insane penguin' scene...


... and it's this moment in the film that is exemplary of all that's great about it: Herzog's unique, sometimes strange, approach to finding truth or commentary. This approach is somewhat muted in Encounters At The End Of The World due to a lack of focus; the narrative essentially being an abstract questioning of human motivation. However, in this scene remains that off-beat and subtly genius approach of Herzog. And in such, this moment means to uncover a universal drive in organic life to be unpredictable, which speaks well to something Neil DeGrasse Tyson has said many times over:

The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you

I think this idea lies at the core of many of Herzog's films, both documentary and narrative. There is an embracing of absurdity, ambiguity and something approaching nihilism in Grizzly Man, Aguirre: The Wrath Of God, White Diamond, Burden Of Dreams, Stroszek, ect. And in showing the world to us in a way that doesn't really seem to make sense, for example, a penguin walking to certain death as an interruptive segment in a film that has largely been focused on people with boxes on their heads...


... in showing us this absurd side of the world, Herzog allows awe to seep into his films. Whilst there is an attempt throughout Encounters At The End Of The World to capture awe-inspiring imagery (which is certainly achieved in the underwater sequences), the true standout moments have a much more subtle heart - the bittersweet and melancholic humanisation of a penguin through the recognition of suicidal, depressive or insane thoughts/motivations. This is the kind of truth that Herzog seeks to find; a human-centric expansion of the universe; a relative unmasking that becomes ever more complex the more is revealed. In showing us the world in this manner, Herzog makes us feel as if we understand nature on a wider scale (understand the mind of a penguin), but draws back to dehumanise what we previously understood to be human (with questions on motivation itself). By doing this, he shows that we are apart of this larger idea of the universe or nature, but then allows the fact to dawn: we don't really know much of anything. This can all then be rounded off nicely with my favourite Herzog quote. When describing the Amazonian jungle, he observes:

The harmony of overwhelming and collective murder

This seems to be the Herzogian translation of the former Neil DeGrasse Tyson quote; not only does the universe have no obligation to make sense to us, but is has no obligation to accommodate and care for us either. It's in this harmonious universal neglect that we find images like this:


But, seemingly, images like this too:


And this juxtaposition says a lot on its own without my words, so I'll leave as is and move toward conclusion.

As to be expected, this is an astounding film that has the ability to suck the air out of a room like few other documentaries can. Though it hasn't the power and concentration of Grizzly Man because of the many characters, Encounters At The End Of The World certainly has a lot to say about the wider world and respective human endeavours.

So, have you seen this movie? What are your thoughts?






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